SET THE EDGE
This is some real advanced Football 404 stuff here, but if the Bucs don't succeed in this critical endeavor, their chances of shutting down QB Cam Newton and the Panthers running game slip to almost nothing. Setting the edge means establishing a point on the field the offense cannot get outside. It's usually done by a linebacker or defensive back who's job is to hold his ground somewhere around the numbers and force the play back inside toward the rest of the defense. The Bucs did a poor job of this at times during the preseason, particularly against Tennessee, and it led to some big breakout runs.
DON'T GIVE UP
Today's game could very easily turn into an old-fashioned, backyard shootout. It features dynamic quarterbacks running what should be high-powered offenses and defenses that struggled last year. The Bucs have to keep that in mind, especially if they fall behind by a couple scores. The Panthers failed to protect a second-half lead seven times last year. When he was at his best two seasons ago, Bucs QB Josh Freeman was a master at winning games late — and he has more weapons now.
MAKE NEWTON SQUIRM
Much of Newton's success against the Bucs last season came as a result of the Bucs' inability to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Newton is good passer, but not a great one. He's not particularly accurate, has a tendency to cut off his progression and his mechanics get out of whack when he can't set his feet. Newton was sacked 35 times and threw 17 interceptions in 2011, so he's as capable of making a big mistake as a big play. With an array of well-timed blitzes and stunts, the Bucs could get more of the former.
Bucs RB Doug Martin vs. Panthers MLB Jon Beason
Martin, a rookie, beat out incumbent LeGarrette Blount for the starting running back job, and there's a good chance Beason will deliver a "welcome to the NFL moment.'' Beason missed most of last year with a torn Achilles tendon but is expected to be back to his typical menacing form. Martin has exceptional burst, cutback ability and vision, but will meet a man in Beason who is as good as any at finding ball carriers and finishing tackles. Martin is a small back who possesses the balance and strength to break tackles and gain critical yards after contact. He'll have his work cut out for him trying to break some of Beason's tackles.
You got the feeling walking around the locker room this week the Bucs were keeping a secret. Truth is, they have been for weeks. They have given little indication what the offense and defense will look like, and that is by design. They want to spring it on everyone and the feeling in the locker room is they're going to spring something unique. One thing is for sure — the players seem excited about the new schemes they're working.
INTERVIEW WITH LB LAVONTE DAVID
Q: Why weren't you more heavily recruited coming out of Miami's Northwestern High?
A: We had a bunch of athletes at Northwestern and I was a little back on academics out of high school. A lot of schools were interested in me, but as the season started coming to an end everybody started looking at my grades and they had fallen off.
Q: You majored in criminology. What have you learned about the criminal-justice system?
A: I have tremendous respect for the people that work in that field. Some of the things that go on are kind of disgusting in what you have to deal with.
Q: What was it like for a South Florida kid to end up playing at a community college in Kansas (Fort Scott) before going to Nebraska?
A: It was rough, man. It was rough being somewhere that you don't know much about. I had never left the state of Florida. When I got to the Midwest, they picked on me for the way I talked. The town I was in was very small and there wasn't a lot to do. The only thing I focused on was football, so in a way being there really helped me out.
Q: What was the No. 1 life lesson you learned from your mom?
A: Take advantage of every opportunity. I wasn't able to go to a big Division I college coming out of high school, but I got into a community college and took advantage of that. I look at it as God sent me to this place for a reason. It's tough to be patient, but when you're patient, good things happen.
Q: What's the most nervous you've been before a sports competition?
A: I'd say my first high school game starting for varsity as a junior against Booker T. Washington. They had a whole bunch of athletes on the field and I was guarding the slot guys. They were really good and it was a big rivalry game. That's the most nervous I can remember.
Tampa Bay's new offensive weapons shine in Greg Schiano's debut on the sidelines.
The Greg Schiano era begins exactly the way the Bucs hoped.